Idyll and Utopia

deadline for submissions: 
January 5, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
German Department Princeton University
contact email: 

Idyll and Utopia

Graduate Conference Call for Papers

Princeton University, German Department

April 17-18, 2020


Keynote: Dr. Caroline Edwards (Birkbeck, University of London)

Idyll and utopia both refer to depictions of the satisfaction of needs in a temporal and spatial displacement. The idyll typically portrays a simple, peaceful natural state, often projected into a reconciled past in small scale; by contrast, the “non-place” of the large-scale utopian society has often been located in a spatial distance from existing society, often looking into a possible future.

However, these traditions are typically projected from different points of origin: utopia has its predecessor in the philosophical vision of Plato’s Politeia, unlike the decidedly poetic and conspicuously apolitical idylls written in antiquity. Ernst Bloch reflects on this difference of (literary) art and philosophy when he describes the arcadic idyll and utopia as correctives for one another, thus emphasizing their historically concrete non-identity. This contrast of the “intuitive-concrete” idyll to the rational, constructive character of utopia itself has a concrete historical referent: Bloch confronts the utopian vision of “real existing socialism” with the idea of reconciliation implicit in the idyllic imagination, and thus, with its own deficiency. Here, the idyll is supposed to have a critical function, in contrast to what has often been described as its idealizing affirmative character. Building upon Bloch’s description, how can the conceptual, historical, and aesthetic relations of idyll and utopia in different media be understood today?

We invite proposals by graduate students and recent post-docs from a range of disciplines, including but not limited to (cultural) history, media studies, literary studies, gender studies, or philosophy. Papers could focus on either the idyll or utopia, or address the relationship between the two from antiquity until today:

  • Can idyll and utopia still work as correctives for one another?
  • In which ways does the opposition between what has been described as the affective character of the idyll and the rational character of utopia appear today?
  • What is the political potential of the idyll and utopia? Can there be an engaged idyll?
  • What role do idylls and utopias play in the colonial and post-colonial imagination?
  • Following Freud’s assumption that those who are happy never fantasize, the persistence of idylls and utopias implies compensation for a deficiency of the present. Do they offer a valid diagnosis or even a concrete program that might help to overcome this deficiency?
  • How does the relation of the idyll to utopia differ from pre-modern to modern times?
  • In which ways do the idyll and utopia depict different ideas of nature and culture?
  • What is the relation of the idyll and utopia towards technology? How does it appear for example in Science Fiction?
  • How must the relation of the idyll and utopia be rethought in the light of new media?

Please submit a working title, an abstract of 350 words for a presentation of no more than twenty minutes in length, and a short bio in a single PDF file to idyllandutopia@gmail.comby January 5, 2020. We are hoping to secure funding to subsidize the lodging costs of participants. Accepted participants will be notified by January 20, 2020.